Dozens of Sequoia Trailers Park residents, many of who are facing eviction, rallied outside the San Mateo County Center on Wednesday to demand an end to the numerous safety violations from the county they said they began receiving this spring.
Paul Ledo was one of a couple of dozen residents, faith leaders and other advocates to gather outside the County Center for a rally on Wednesday. For half an hour, attendees took turns at the microphone, sharing their grievances with ongoing inspections—and now fines—from the county.
A small group, including Ledo, a resident named Norm Knepher and several others, entered the County Center to deliver a message to San Mateo County Community Development Director Steve Monowitz.
Clad in matching stickers that read “We are United,” the residents rode the elevator up to the Planning and Building Department carrying a massive cardboard Safety Violation notice. They were disappointed to learn that Monowitz was on vacation but left the poster-sized sign in his office instead.
In the notice, the residents accused the county of "failing to enforce codes at Sequoia Trailer Park for decades"; "endangering the safety and wellbeing of residents" by demanding that they make individual repairs before the park has fixed larger infrastructure issues; and threatening to fine residents for noncompliance.
The rally comes one month after Sequoia Trailer Park residents attended a meeting with county officials to discuss the long list of code violations—from unsecured propane tanks to misplaced AC units. Many said this was the first time they’d ever experienced a county inspection.
Residents say the violations are a red herring.
Facing major sewage leaks and failing electrical systems, they have called on the county to stop enforcement of minor infractions and look instead to large-scale improvements to the trailer park.
Since then, the tenants have started receiving notices from the county, threatening to fine them for violations starting Aug. 10. Many say they don’t have the money to pay for the repairs—or the fines.
However, the county has no desire to enforce fines among residents, according to Deputy County Executive Justin Mates. He said that the fines listed on the notice sent to residents is simply part of the county's standard safety violation form.
"The primary goal is the health and safety of the residents," Mates said. "We are ratcheting up the enforcement discussion. That being said, we don’t actually intend to fine people. That’s not our goal."
Mates, who has been coordinating the county's response to the trailer park safety violations, said that issue first came to their attention when a unit in the park caught fire last year. After that, the county did a full inspection and "found widespread violations particularly around fire safety." In the months that followed, they hosted several community meetings and began issuing violations notices to individual residents, as well as to the park management, Evans Management Services.
Mates said that the county intends to continue working with the residents and the management to help them get into compliance with the law. The county is also working with the local nonprofit Rebuilding Together to subsidize repairs for residents who qualify.
"We appreciate that this is hard for residents and is going to be a cost burden," he said. "We just make sure that people are safe in that park."
Supervisor Warren Slocum, who represents the district that includes the trailer park, said his perspective on the situation had shifted as a result of the latest action led by residents.
"That is not the way to proceed in this matter," he said of their refusal to make any further repairs until the park's infrastructure is fixed. "Whoever gave them that advice gave some bad advice."
He worried that the residents' efforts could backfire, putting them in even more danger.
"Park management could say, for instance to those residents with violations, 'You’re in violation of your lease and therefore we can evict you.' And that’s the last thing we want—for anybody to be evicted," he said.
Promising to "hold park management accountable" for their repairs, he called on the residents to work with the county towards complying with their individual safety violations and preventing future incidents like that fire that occurred in 2021.
The county plans to begin hosting "clinics" in the trailer park in the coming weeks to help residents make the required repairs or adjustments to their homes—and apply for financial assistance when needed.
"Starting next week, we're going to send in folks to work one-on-one with the residents to fill out forms, etc.," Slocum said.
"The only way this is going to resolve in a positive way is for all of us to work together," he added. "We’ve all got to be rowing in the same direction."
Ledo has lived at the trailer park with his wife for eight years. He received a notice from the county that his trailer is in violation of safety regulations. To comply, he said he’ll have to move the whole trailer over approximately 1.5 feet.
Ledo was told that he needs to maintain 3 feet of space around all sides of his trailer. He estimated the job would cost $250 and require him to empty his entire trailer. But with an old roof and floor, he’s concerned moving it could cause irreparable damage.
According to residents, the county began delivering the code violations to the park's residents in March. The residents sent a petition, signed by 75% of the park’s residents, asking the county "to create a transparent process to formally rescind code violations that are impossible or unsafe to correct, to guarantee that a financial assistance program will pay for needed repairs and to hold park management accountable for the real health and safety issues in the park."